I came across possibly the best analysis I’ve seen yet of the phenomena that is Occupy Wall Street, from self-confessed Marxist Kenneth Anderson over at the Volokh Conspiracy. Anderson, referencing Christopher Lasch’s analysis of the protestors as part of a “New Class” of managerial workers, has this to say about the protestors, what has driven them into the parks, and what their demands probably really are:
The problem the New Class faces at this point is the psychological and social self-perceptions of a status group that is alienated (as we marxists say) from traditional labor by its semi-privileged upbringing — and by the fact that it is actually, two distinct strands, a privileged one and a semi-privileged one. It is, for the moment, insistent not just on white-collar work as its birthright and unable to conceive of much else. It does not celebrate the dignity of labor; it conceived of itself as existing to regulate labor. So it has purified itself to the point that not just any white-collar work will do. It has to be, as Michelle Obama instructed people in what now has to be seen as another era, virtuous non-profit or government work [italics mine – CHF]. Those attitudes are changing, but only slowly; the university pipelines are still full of people who cannot imagine themselves in any other kind of work, unless it means working for Apple or Google.
The New Class has always operated across the lines of public and private, however, the government-university-finance and technology capital sectors. It is not a theory of the government class versus the business class — as 1990s neoconservatives sometimes mistakenly imagined. As Lasch pointed out, it is the class that bridges and moves effortlessly between the two. As a theory of late capitalism (once imported from being an analysis of communist nomenkaltura) it offers itself as a theory of technocratic expertise first – but, if that spectacularly fails as it did in 2008, it falls back on a much more rudimentary claim of monopoly access to the levers of the economy. Which is to say, the right to bridge the private-public line, and rent out its access.
The asset bubble pops, but the upper tier New Class, having insulated itself and, as with subprime, having taken its cut upfront and passed the risk along, is still doing pretty well. It’s not populism versus the bankers so much as internecine warfare between two tiers of elites.
I think this is a fascinating analysis, and generally correct. It corresponds with some things that I have seen, embedded deeply in a seminary of a socially, politically and sometimes theologically liberal confession. Because what Anderson is describing is the clerisy, that class of educated professionals who have administered industrial democracy since its invention in the latter half of the 19th century. Economist Deirdre McClosky in her book on bourgeois virtues noted that the clerisy were deeply bourgeois in the values and social expectations but were also those group of bourgeois who were completely alienated from the actual production of wealth. They have no idea where money comes from, how value is added, how wealth is produced. Indeed, the clerisy tend to take the means of production, and the production of wealth, as a given.
The clerisy in the West is both secular and religious. But liberal protestant churches (such as the one I am in) are run by the clerisy, by people who effectively have no real understanding of, or much appreciation for, the creation of wealth. The general view of money and wealth for the liberal protestant seems to be:
- Money is icky and bad …
- … But no one should ever have to struggle for money.